Romance. We tend to attribute romantic sensibility to women. Women read romance novels. Rom-coms are made with the female audience in mind. But whether they admit it easily or not, most men are taken in by romance, too. I know. I am.
In the “Acknowledgements” section of my newly released novel, The Hunger & The Hunted, I unwittingly set myself up for inquiry. I wrote, “I set out to write a book that I would love to read myself: a compelling love story and thriller, full of sex and violence…” There is so much in that one statement to pull apart and analyze. How did you migrate to enjoy reading, and fantasizing, and ultimately writing about romance and sex? And what about the violence? What books and authors did you love that influenced you? And what movies and scenes of romance, love and sex moved you?
Many readers of my novel commented on the realistic characters and real-life emotions played out particularly in the romantic sequences. So let’s start there. Romance. Chemistry. Sex.
Before I do, however, I need to make a confession. I am a hopeless romantic. I believe in the power of love and connection. I believe that there is such a thing as bilateral, intoxicating chemistry between people. And, I had the advantage of having a base going in to my teens and early adulthood built by a wonderful relationship with my mother. She, no doubt, modeled what romance looked like. She was a lady in the true sense of the word, and taught all four of her children that to live life completely, you did so passionately and romantically.
I had fun mulling over the novels and cinema of my childhood and impressionable young adult years. I had never thought to peel back that onion. It was a journey in itself. However, in this writing I am only going to explore that question as it relates to movies. I’ll leave the novel discussion for another time.
Below are five scenes and/or movies that moved me. And as I think deeply about them, they must have played a role in my development as an author and a person. So here you go…
- The Summer of 42 (Dance Scene) 1971. No one scene had a greater emotional impact on me than Jennifer O’Neill, playing a bereaved war bride, slow dancing with a young teen, who at the time of the movie’s screening, was just about my age. I fell hopelessly in love. O’Neill, upon learning of the death of her husband, is home alone grieving and suffering. The young teen, who she had befriended in that summer of 1942, stops by her house to express how sorry he was. The awkwardness, the emotion, the setting, the lighting, the music – and that dance — added up to an unforgettable portrait of romance. The only naked parts of her body were her feet. To this day, that scene haunts me.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Bicycle Scene) 1969. At another very impressionable time in my life, this movie came to town and entranced me. Well at least Katherine Ross did. I loved the move, but it was when riding so carefree and happily upon the handlebars of Paul Newman’s bicycle that Ms. Ross playfully laughed and teased her way into my heart. Her dress invitingly blowing off her legs, her laughter and winning smile, her feeding of the delicious apple (Biblical metaphor?) to Mr. Newman. Who didn’t fall hopelessly in love?
This scene epitomizes one of my favorite terms in describing romantic chemistry: “time going lightly.” All you have to do is replay that scene to witness easy playful love. It didn’t hurt that the catchy tune, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” served as a backdrop.
- The Thornbirds (Forbidden Love) 1983. By the early eighties, I was certainly getting older and was well in tune with my libido and my heart – or so I thought. Meggie (a name I stole for my novel), played by Rachel Ward, falls for Father de Bricassart a Catholic priest in rural Australia. This forbidden love tension develops throughout the movie. Perhaps it was the slow, deliberate pace with which these two find each other’s heart that captured mine. I’m not sure. But whatever it was, I felt it deeply.
Like me, the role of the priest, played by Richard Chamberlain, is a flawed, big-hearted “saver.” I could see myself in that role, and viscerally related to this love affair that was just out of his reach. The escalating social barriers that continued to block them, only added to the chemistry and connection that heated between them and branded this movie in my brain.
- The Horse Whisperer (More Forbidden Love) 1998. Once again, I fall for a movie about forbidden love between a complicated married woman, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and a horse psychic (Robert Redford). Kristin’s character is not out looking for love, but rather she is a concerned mother worried sick about the mental well-being of her daughter.
In the normal course of a very complicated life, she finds a true connection in a man, who is refreshingly uncomplicated and doing his best to help her daughter. And in the process, he is helping her get in touch with some very raw feelings of her own. The electricity between them leads to a heated affair and a very complicated re-entry into the world she left behind.
- Titanic (The Drawing Scene) 1997. One of my top 5 movies of all time, Titanic had one of the most electric love stories made forbidden not just by marriage, but by a gaping maw of social divide. I particularly was drawn to the scene where Rose, played by Kate Winslett, asks Leo DiCaprio’s character, Jack, to paint her wearing only a diamond necklace.
The scene is erotic in its sexual implication and simplicity. I could almost feel Jack’s hands caressing Rose’s body as he sketched her nakedness. There is raw connection here. And like the protagonist in my novel, Rose dares to step out of her unhappy life and take a risk at something better.
And what makes an even more powerful image is found in the lyrics of the theme song from this transformative work of cinematic art: “My Heart Will Go On.” And I quote: “Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime.” Is it possible to meet someone at an unexpected time in your life for a very brief encounter, and have a chemistry connection so strong that it lasts for a lifetime? I believe it is possible.
So, as I look back at these movies in particular that moved me, touched me and inspired me in impossible ways to understand at the time, I guess I am not surprised by my subliminal treatment of the characters, and the story lines, in my novel. Forbidden love. Connection. Risk. Carefree time-going-lightly. Intoxicating chemistry.
And as I reflect even further into the female roles in particular in these movies, something else, remarkable, stands out: all these roles are played by beautiful brunettes.
Just like my Meagan.
C. Lindsey Williams